Monthly Archives: February 2017

Fences/Oscar Night

“Fences,” in my judgment, matches the incomparable “A Streetcar Named Desire” in every category. In fact, it is astonishingly comparable.

Writing: August Wilson/ Tennessee Williams

Actor: Denzel Washington/Marlon Brando
Viola Davis/Vivien Leigh

Director: Denzel Washington/Elia Kazan

Title: Fences/A Streetcar Named Desire

I want to talk about the title, Fences. Its profundity, as it dawned on me slowly and then gloriously, made watching the movie an unforgettable experience.

Since Copernicus, a mere 500 years ago, a blip in geologic time, we humans have gone from a closed world to an infinite universe. Our recognition of infinite space, together with Deep Time, has made us vulnerable to a universal, existential terror:


“Fences” is about Homelessness. In the footless void of the universe, we set up little havens of finite space, built in the middle of nowhere, fencing in a place for us, a somewhere to stand on our two feet. A poet recognized this universal need, “Folks want desperately to remain on their land, because once they leave, they’ll have no abode to identify as their native place.” Another poet observed, “We need a home, the place where, when you have to go there/ They have to take you in.”

Fences – let me count the ways August Wilson, in skull rattling, heaving poetry unfolds the richness of his metaphor. First, a regular fence along a property line, “Good fences make good neighbors.” A marriage fence, setting sexual boundaries. A family fence. A penitentiary fence in place for 15 years. A metal plate in the head of an injured war veteran, fencing in his brain. An Oedipal fence, the father fencing off his son from a football scholarship, a racial fence cutting off a youth from a career in baseball when he could drive a ball over the “fence” as well as Roberto Clementi, talk of Joe Louis conjuring the fenced in dimensions of a boxing ring, the fenced in space of a garbage truck driver alone in his cab and no one to talk with. I COULD GO ON.

The story is about breaking fences, recognizing the damage, suffering the guilt, repairing them when possible.

“A Streetcar Named Desire” was made almost 70 years ago. It remains a classic. “Fences” is comparable. I haven’s seen the other films nominated for The Oscars tonight, but “Fences” is one for the ages. If it doesn’t get any number of Oscars, I will assume the majority of the voting members are racist Republicans,

Trump and Andrew Jackson

President Trump hung a portrait of Andrew Jackson in the Oval Office last Tuesday.

Chief White House strategist Steve Bannon called Trump’s Inauguration speech on Friday “Jacksonian,” saying it struck the populist and patriotic tones Jackson was known for. Trump has also expressed admiration for the seventh president, calling Jackson “an amazing figure in American history — very unique in so many ways.”

Who was this “unique” President? Trump never read a book in his life, so we’re looking at the mind of Trump’s Svengali, Steve Bannon, an alt-right nihilist who intends to destroy government.
In order to help me in this quest, I bought “American Lion,” Jon Meacham’s biography of Andrew Jackson. I will share some tidbits.

Jackson’s obsession was securing the nation’s borders. After his triumph in New Orleans in 1815, he continued his battles against the Indians and the Spanish. Spain held Florida, where slaves were escaping to what Jackson called the “negro fort.” He wrote a Spanish general, “This will not be tolerated, and if not put down by the Spanish Authority will compel us in self-defense to destroy them.” Mission accomplished. The fort held 270 blacks.

After he lost his first presidential bid in 1824, he claimed the system was “rigged.” The number of scandals between his admission to the bar and the Presidency in 1828 would have ended anyone else’s career – martial law in New Orleans, execution of mutineers in the field, invading Florida without proper authority, killing British subjects and causing a crisis with England, slaying a man in a duel, gunfights.

“The character of his mind absorbed the essence of a situation at a glance, followed by instant and decisive action. But behind his bluster lay a skill for controlling and even erasing the damage his rashness could cause.” Jackson’s legacy is rife with controversy. He signed the Indian Removal Act of 1830, paving the way for what is now known as the “Trail of Tears.” The Cherokee Nation was booted out of its lands east of the Mississippi in a massive forced migration.

Jackson enjoyed the great life. He adored maneuvering. He was delighted by crowds and parties and the risks and rewards of the public stage.

No surprise his portrait hangs in Trump’s Oval Office.

Last year, the Treasury Department announced plans for a new $20 bill that would bump Jackson’s portrait for that of Harriet Tubman.

“The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice.”

Why Trump Is So Dangerous

Othello, crazed by jealousy, kills Desdemona, his great love. He gives utterance to his inner world:

“Then must you speak
Of one that loved not wisely but too well,
Of one not easily jealous, but, being wrought,
Threw a pearl away

Iago, driven by envy, tells a different story:

“For my sport and profit,
I hate the Moor. He holds me well.
The better shall my purpose work on him.”

When Othello, his life shattered, asks why he has “ensnared” his soul and body, what was his purpose, Iago answers,

“Demand me nothing. What you know, you know.
From this time forth I never will speak word.”

Iago HATES the Moor. Why? He simply hates. Don’t ask the reason. He has no clue. It is simply his purpose. He will never speak a word of explanation because there is none. Hate is simply his sport and passion.

Envy sets itself against life. What is alive, what is good, what is real, envy hates. In the case of Trump, hate is simply his sport. He calls the Mexican president and threatens to invade his country. He speaks with the Australian prime minister, gets into a disagreement and cuts the conversation short. He threatens Iran by putting it “on notice.” He has no regard for truth. Adam Gopnik, in a recent New Yorker, gets it exactly right. “People aren’t meant to believe (fake news;) they’re meant to be intimidated by it…The lunacy is a deliberate challenge to the whole larger idea of sanity.” Trump intends to drive us crazy. That’s what Iago managed against Othello.

Atomic scientists have moved “Time” on the Doomsday Clock closer to “Midnight,” from three to two and a half minutes. Not since 1952 has civilization come under such peril. The keepers of The Clock say the reason is simple: Donald Trump. The fact he is President of the most powerful nation in the world gives him the power to end civilization.

What did envy get Iago? Nothing, except the destruction of Othello. But it destroyed Iago as well! Doesn’t matter. Envy will go down in flames as long as the hated object does likewise. Trump’s destructiveness grows apace. It’s one thing to attack a gifted actress, or to “dis” a great play or an iconic civil rights leader. But to insist three million illegal votes were cast, and all of them for Hillary, that is delusional. Or a con. And to threaten the Mexican president with an invasion, that is terrifying.

All his life, Trump has warred with reality. He has been involved with 3,500 lawsuits, stiffed the workers he employed, disregarded the rules of the game at every turn – for his sport and profit. Trump’s endless pre-occupation with himself and his superiority is fundamentally not a manifestation of his towering narcissism but of his murderous envy. We have to get the diagnosis right. His shamelessness is a nuisance. His hatred threatens seven billion of us with destruction.

Iago sits in the Oval Office.